Free Will Beliefs and Moral Responsibility: Disbelief in Free Will Leads to Less Responsibility for Third Person’s Crime


This study examined the effects of belief in free will on attribution of moral responsibility. Past research conducted in Western countries has found that people’s belief in free will influences subsequent social judgment and behavior. For example, induced disbelief in free will caused participants to give lighter prison sentences of the criminal (Shariff, Greene, Karremans, Luguri, Clark, Schooler, Baumeister, & Vohs, 2014). What seems to be lacking, however, is a study which test generalizability of the findings across cultures. The authors therefore attempts to explore whether disbelief in free will results in forgiveness for the criminal in Japan as well. In the experiment, we employed English-Japanese translation to manipulate participants’ belief in free will (free will vs. control vs. determinism). Then we presented hypothetical scenarios involving an assault which was caused by a third person or a participant’s friend. Participants were asked to rate moral responsibility and sentencing of the criminal. The analyses revealed that participants in the determinism condition judged sentencing of the third person (criminal) less severely. In contrast, disbelief in free will does not have an effect on sentencing of the friend (criminal). These evidence leads to the conclusion that some basic assumptions of the effects of free will beliefs could be generalized across cultures. Implications will be discussed with regard to the difference of sentencing judgments between the third person and friend, and also with regard to effects of free will beliefs on attribution of moral responsibility.

Author Information
Takumi Watanabe, University of Tokyo, Japan
Ryosuke Sakurai, University of Tokyo, Japan
Kaori Karasawa, University of Tokyo, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACP2015
Stream: General Psychology

This paper is part of the ACP2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon